Israel's Russian migrants an obstacle to peace: Bill Clinton

23rd September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian immigrants to Israel are a key obstacle to reaching peace with the Palestinians, according to ex-US president Bill Clinton -- words that elicited a terse reaction Wednesday from Israel's leader.

Clinton, speaking Tuesday at the annual Clinton Global Initiative conference, said that an increasing number of members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) "are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land.

"This presents a staggering problem," according to an account in Foreign Policy magazine. "It's a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian."

According to Clinton, who was president from 1993-2001, Israel's Russian immigrants are those least interested in reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians.

"They've just got there, it's their country, they've made a commitment to the future there," Clinton said. "They can't imagine any historical or other claims that would justify dividing it."

In Clinton's view, the "most pro-peace Jewish Israelis" are the native-born Israelis who can trace their family roots back for centuries and more. "They can imagine sharing a future" because they can see events in historical context, he said.

Those next most supportive of a peace deal are the Jews who emigrated from Europe and have been in Israel for one or more generations.

Clinton described the North African Jews who immigrated to Israel in the 1970s as the "swing voters."

"When they think peace is possible, they vote peace. When they think it's not, they vote for the toughest guys on the block," Clinton said.

On Wednesday, the office Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a terse statement saying that the Israeli leader "regrets" the comments.

"As a friend of Israel, Bill Clinton surely knows that immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and continue to contribute greatly to the progress, development and strength of the Israel Defense Forces and to the state of Israel," read the statement, quoting Netanyahu.

"Only a strong Israel can bring about a secure and stable peace," Netanyahu said.

Bill Clinton's wife, Hillary Clinton, is the US secretary of state.

© 2010 AFP

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